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  • 1Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 - Lothar Katz

    Negotiating International Business - Thailand

    This section is an excerpt from the book Negotiating International Business - The Negotiators Reference Guide to 50 Countries Around the World by Lothar Katz.. It has been updated with inputs from readers and others, most recently in March 2008.

    Around 80 percent of the countrys population is Ethnic Thais. The majority of the others in this plu-ralistic culture are Chinese . Many of the businesspeople belong to the Chinese minority. They oft en have strong connections back to family businesses in China, which can sometimes make it neces-sary to close a deal both in Thailand and China. Of all Thais, 95 percent are Buddhists and most of the others are Muslims . The country consists of two former kingdoms, Thai Lann to the North and Siam to the South. Power centers among the Thai elite still follow this division, so doing business countrywide oft en requires negotiating separate deals.

    Businesspeople and offi cials in Thailand, especially outside of Bangkok , usually have only limited exposure to other cultures. When negotiating business here, realize that people may expect things to be done their way. However, some among younger generations may have greater international experience and can be very open-minded.

    Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never under European rule. People are proud of their history. Thai means free. That notwithstanding, there is a strong allegiance to the King and his family. The countrys government, though, has been the subject of many coups throughout its history. Government contracts may therefore not be secure in the long term. In addition, the country is divided into several provinces whose local governments may be very infl uential, especially away from Bangkok.

    Relationships and RespectThailands culture is strongly group-oriented. Asserting individual preferences may be seen as less important than having a sense of belonging to a group, conforming to its norms, and maintaining harmony among its members. Building lasting and trusting personal relationships is therefore very important to most Thai people, who oft en expect to establish strong bonds prior to closing any deals. People in this country prefer to do business with those they know and respect. Consequently, proceed with serious business discussions only aft er your counterparts have become somewhat comfortable with you.

    Relationships are based on familiarity, respect, and personal trust, which can take a long time to establish. Business relationships in this country exist between people, not necessarily between com-panies. Even when you have won your local business partners friendship and trust, they will not necessarily trust others from your company. That makes it very important to keep company inter-faces unchanged. Changing a key contact may require the relationship building process to start over. Worst case, such a change may bring negotiations to a complete halt.

    In Thailands culture, saving face is very essential. Harmony must be maintained at all cost, and emotional restraint is held in high esteem. Every persons reputation and social standing rests on this concept. Causing embarrassment to another person or openly criticizing others may cause a loss of face for all parties involved and can be disastrous for business negotiations. Reputation and social standing strongly depend on a persons ability to control emotions and remain friendly at all times. The importance of diplomatic restraint and tact cannot be overestimated. Keep your cool and never show openly that you are upset.

  • 2Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 - Lothar Katz

    Thais are usually very friendly and polite. Life is there to be enjoyed and keeping a positive att itude is expected and appreciated. Never lose control of your emotions or be overly assertive.

    In Thailands business culture, the respect a person enjoys depends primarily on his or her age and rank. It is very diffi cult for Thais to have a conversation with a person whose status is unclear, since knowing whether someone is a superior, inferior, or equal strongly infl uences behaviors. Business leaders may have a high sense of self-reliance and can be very autocratic and authoritarian. Titles are very important. Admired personal traits include politeness, modesty, sincerity, honesty.

    CommunicationThe offi cial language of the country is Thai. Many businesspeople speak English, although not al-ways well. It may be useful to have an interpreter. To avoid off ending the other side, ask beforehand whether an interpreter should be present at a meeting. When communicating in English, speak in short, simple sentences and avoid using jargon and slang. It will help people with a limited com-mand of English if you speak slowly, summarize your key points oft en, and pause frequently to allow for interpretation.

    Thai people usually speak in quiet, gentle tones. Conversations may include periods of silence, which do not necessarily convey a negative message. Loud and boisterous behavior is perceived as a lack of self-control. People generally converse while standing around three feet apart.

    Because being friendly and saving face are so important in this culture, communication is generally indirect, though slightly less so than in other Asian countries. Direct confrontation is inappropriate, and it is bett er to ask open questions instead of closed ones. When responding to a direct question, Thai people may answer yes only to signal that they heard what you said, not that they agree with it. You rarely hear a direct no. Instead, they may give seemingly ambiguous answers such as I am not sure, we will think about it, or maybe. Each of these could mean no, as does a yes that sounds hesitant or weak. Alternatively, a respondent may deliberately ignore your question or pre-tend that he or she does not understand English. It is benefi cial to use a similarly indirect approach when dealing with Thais, as they may perceive you as rude and pushy if you are too direct.

    A Thai who considers you a superior will likely tell you what he or she thinks you want to hear, especially when others are around. This is a way to save face and preserve honor. Similarly, if asked to give constructive feedback, people may resort to highlighting only the positives, in which case you should listen carefully for what is not being said. Candid comments and criticism may only be conveyed in private, oft en through a third party. Similarly, it can be eff ective to deliver negative re-sponses to your negotiation counterparts through a third party, which is a face-saving way.

    Gestures are usually subtle. It is advisable to restrict your body language. Non-verbal communica-tion is important, though, and you should carefully watch for others small hints, just as they will be watching you. Avoid any physical contact with Thai people except for handshakes. Never touch someones head, not even that of a child. Since Thais consider the left hand unclean, use it only if inevitable. Pointing with the index fi nger or the full hand is considered rude. Instead, gesticulate in the general direction of whatever you are referring to or point with your chin. Eye contact should be very infrequent. Thai people rarely look the other straight in the eye. Restrain your emotions and avoid any facial expressions that may suggest disagreement, such as grimacing or shaking your head.

    Thai people do not expect foreigners to smile as oft en as they do. Smiles and laughter do not al-ways indicate amusement or approval. Frequently, they may mask embarrassment, disapproval, and other feelings of distress. Accordingly, Westerners may sometimes observe Thai people smiling or laughing at what they might consider inappropriate moments.

  • 3Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 - Lothar Katz

    Initial Contacts and MeetingsBefore initiating business negotiations in Thailand, it is highly advantageous to identify and engage a local representative who can make the initial contact. This person will help bridge the cultural and communications gap, allowing you to conduct business with greater eff ectiveness. Without such an agent or business partner, even seemingly simple things such as gett ing items through customs can become very diffi cult and frustrating. Choose your representation carefully to ensure that they can accomplish what you expect them to do.Conducting negotiations in Thailand with a team of negotiators instead of relying on a single indi-vidual may speed up the negotiation process. It is vital that teams be well aligned, with roles clearly assigned to each member. Changing a team member may require the relationship building process to start over and should therefore be avoided. Worst case, such a change can bring negotiations to a complete halt.If possible, schedule meetings at least four weeks in advance. Since people want to know whom they will be meeting, provide details on titles, positions, and responsibilities of att endees ahead of time. While meetings may start considerably late, Thais generally expect foreign visitors to be punctual. In Bangkok with its oft en-chaotic traffi c and resulting considerable delays, allow plenty of time to get to an appointment. Avoid being more than 10 to 15 minutes late. Displaying anger if you have to wait, which happens oft en, refl ects very poorly on you. Ethnic Thai names are traditionally given in the order of fi rst name, family name. Addressing them with Khun plus the fi rst name is perfectly acceptable. Using Mr./Ms. plus the family name may con-fuse people who had litt le exposure to foreign cultures. Some Thais may actually call you Mr./Ms., followed by your fi rst name. Chinese people usually give their names in the order of family name, fi rst name, where the latt er consists of two names, the generational name, and the given name. These two are usually hyphenated but may be spoken (and sometimes writt en) as one. Some people use assumed western fi rst names, in which case they give theirs in the order of fi rst name followed by family name. Properly pronouncing your counterparts names is very important. Academic and professional titles are highly valued and must be used. Introduce and greet older people fi rst. Thais use handshakes only to greet foreigners. The local greeting is the wai : the hands are held together as if praying, touching your body lightly somewhere between your chest and forehead. Aft er the introductions, off er your business card to everyone present. Not having a card as a foreign-er is viewed as unprofessional, even though you may not always get one in return. Business cards should be of high quality and printed in English, with the other side translated into Thai. Show doc-torate degrees on your card and make sure that it clearly states your professional title, especially if you have the seniority to make decisions. Present your card with your right hand, with the Thai side facing the recipient. Similarly, accept others cards using only the right hand. Smile while doing so, then examine the card carefully. Not reading someones card can be an insult. Next, remark upon the card and then place it on the table in front of you or into your card case. Never stuff someones card into your back pocket or otherwise treat it disrespectfully. Never write on a persons business card. At the beginning of a meeting, there is normally some small talk. This allows participants to become personally acquainted. It is best to let the local side set the pace and follow along. The primary purpose of the fi rst meeting is to become acquainted and build relationships. Business may be discussed, but do not try to hurry along with your agenda. It is unrealistic to expect initial meetings to lead to straight decisions. Frequent meeting interruptions are normal and do not signal a lack of interest.Presentation materials should be very att ractive, with good and clear visuals. Use diagrams and pictures wherever feasible, cut down on words, and avoid complicated expressions. Having your handout materials translated to Thai is not a must, but it helps in gett ing your messages across.

  • 4Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 - Lothar Katz

    NegotiationAtt itudes and Styles Leveraging relationships is an important element when negotiating in Thai-land. To Thai businesspeople, negotiating is usually a joint problem-solving process. While the buyer is in a superior position, both sides in a business deal own the responsibility to reach agree-ment. They expect long-term commitments from their business partners and will focus mostly on long-term benefi ts. The primary negotiation style is cooperative and people may be open to com-promising if viewed helpful in order to move the negotiation forward. Maintaining harmonious re-lationships throughout the process is vitally important. While each party is expected to pursue their best interests, Thais disapprove of competitiveness and strive to fi nd win-win solutions, avoiding confrontation and always leaving a way out for the other. In fact, Thais may prefer compromising even if there is no real need to compromise. However, keep in mind that there are oft en Chinese cultural infl uences that can aff ect negotiation styles.

    Sharing of Information - Information is rarely shared freely, since the locals believe that privileged information creates bargaining advantages. However, it can be advantageous to share some infor-mation as a way to build trust.

    Pace of Negotiation Expect negotiations to be slow and protracted. Relationship building, infor-mation gathering, bargaining, and decision making all take considerable time. In addition, Thais have a lower sense of urgency than a Westerner may be accustomed to. Consequently, your expec-tations regarding deadlines and effi ciency may be unrealistic. Be prepared to make several trips if necessary to achieve your objectives. Throughout the negotiation, be patient, control your emotions, and accept that delays occur.

    Thai people generally employ a polychronic work style. They are used to pursuing multiple actions and goals in parallel. When negotiating, they oft en take a holistic approach and may jump back and forth between topics rather than addressing them in sequential order. Negotiators from strongly monochronic cultures, such as Germany, the United Kingdom, or the United States, may fi nd this style confusing, irritating, and even annoying. In any case, do not show irritation or anger when encountering this behavior. Instead, keep track of the bargaining progress at all times, oft en empha-sizing areas where agreement already exists.

    If your counterparts appear to be stalling the negotiation, assess carefully whether their slowing down the process indicates that they are evaluating alternatives or that they are not interested in doing business with you. If small, insignifi cant details seem to have become major problems, realize that there may...

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